In the world of fast food, the wheels of change turn slowly; that’s why it has taken the industry nearly two years to catch up to the Popeyes chicken sandwich with a parade of new contenders. Nevertheless, America’s chain restaurants are slowly but surely preparing for the future, one in which we will be expected to order via mobile app and avoid leaving our cars as much as possible—but hey, the food has never been better.
What would the ideal fast food landscape of 2022 look like to you? We took some time to ponder that question, thinking about the menu items, promotions, upgrades, and other changes we’d like to see in the coming year. If consumers are the ones driving change, as the executives like to say, then let’s tell the industry exactly where to go from here.
More soda options
The soda industry can’t stop (and won’t stop) innovating. This year alone, we’ve seen Flamin’ Hot MTN DEW, Peeps-flavored Pepsi, Chocolate Dr Pepper, and that’s barely the tip of the specialty soda iceberg. And if you’ve ever had the good fortune to grab a self-serve soda from a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, you, too, are undoubtedly disappointed whenever you’re confronted with an “old school” soda fountain with limited pop possibilities. We’ve entered a whole new world of beverage options, and it’s about time the fast food biz caught up.
The return of Taco Bell’s 7-Layer Burrito
Much fuss was made when Taco Bell axed the Mexican Pizza from its menu, while the 7-Layer Burrito was unceremoniously axed with barely a whimper. To the majority meat-eating masses, the 7-Layer Burrito was of little consequence, but to America’s vegetarians, the 7-Layer Burrito was a dietary stalwart, one of the few reliable meat-free menu items across the entire fast food landscape.
Adding insult to injury: Taco Bell has every single one of the burrito’s seven glorious layers in stock for other menu items, so it stands to reason that The Bell should be able to wrap up rice, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole, and cheese in a flour tortilla at any given time. It hasn’t done so since July 2020. Hopefully that changes in 2022.
Fewer chicken sandwiches, please
It’s likely the glory days of the fried chicken sandwich are now over. New sandwich releases appear to have calmed down quite a bit since earlier this year, and the fast food chains who did debut chicken sandwiches seem to have begun quieting down about them. Hopefully, this means we can catch our collective breath. Because, wow, that was a lot of chicken sandwiches dunked into deep fryers. Hey, 2022, maybe you can give those poor chickens a break?
More fish sandwiches, please
Hear us out: What if we channeled that chicken sandwich energy into the fish sandwich market? We’re already facing a white meat shortage; what if we gave our fowl friends a break and enjoyed the chicken sandwich of the sea? If fast food operations put half as much energy into fish sandwiches as they’ve recently put into chicken sandwiches, we could normalize enjoying delicious breaded cod long past Lent.
Will we ever get better desserts?
Fast food desserts exist in a woefully neglected category. But there really aren’t any specific chains that come to mind when we say, “Is there anything worth getting after that burger?” (The Wendy’s Frosty doesn’t count; that’s a side to pair with your fries, not dessert.) Can we finally get a dessert that’s destination-worthy? Something we visit a chain for that isn’t a whole meal, perhaps?
A more expansive breakfast menu
Now that some people are cautiously returning to the office, some of us are running out the door before we can make breakfast. Hey, not everyone’s an early riser. Options for breakfast still seem like they’re pretty slim, with the same old protein, egg, and cheese combos on some form of bread. Can we get more wraps, toss a veggie or two in there, and switch it up a little? We cubicle jockeys could use some variety.
Some fast food chains have already taken steps to use eco-friendly packaging, but this is a change we want to see happen across the board. Just like offering more plant-based options, this is a change many can and should get behind. Reuters reports that 99.6% of the paper bags, food wrappers, napkins, and other fiber-based materials McDonald’s used to package meals came from recycled or certified sustainable fiber sources. Burger King also tested out reusable packaging this past year. Now let’s put the pressure on every chain to follow suit.
A delicious, reliable salad
Not every trip to a fast food restaurant needs to involve piles of meat and potatoes. Sometimes diners just want a tasty vegetable on the go. While places like McDonald’s and Burger King have tried and failed to push bowls of sad lettuce as “healthy” options in the past, this plea is less about nutrition and more about integrating veggie-forward dishes that are fresh, light, and appetizing. It’s about time to get creative with quick salad offerings in 2022.